While at the CIPD annual conference, I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about a range of topics that sit in and around HR. One of those conversations centred around why there aren’t enough Asian/Indian males working in HR. I threw the question out there in Twitterville, and the responses I got ranged from “why do you think?”, to “why does it matter if there are or not?” to “do the CIPD not have this type of demographic data?”. Here’s my thoughts about this.
I guess the first thing is to throw out a caveat. I’m talking from a personal perspective, and haven’t looked into the data which I know is readily available. Also, I’m going to use the term Indian males to capture the ‘group’. I’m also only talking about the UK population.
As I see it, here are some things which I perceive to be true.
The recruitment industry I think has a higher proportion of Indian males than other areas of HR.
HR generalist, learning and development and OD and have a low proportion.
I can say this with a fair amount of confidence as when I’ve attended HR (and L&D for that matter) conferences/seminars/unconferences I’ve certainly been one of the few men present, and most definitely the only Indian male in the group.
So let’s take a step back and have a look at some history. When the first wave of Indians emigrated to the UK, they secured various positions of work which gave them a secure income to raise a family and buy a home. Their kids were encouraged to attend school, get a good education and become skilled professionals in either medicine or law or accountancy in the main. The next wave after were given even better opportunities and suddenly all opportunities were very open in the job market.
What kind of jobs did this most recent generation (think 24-35 year olds) go for? Everything from business consultancies at the likes of Bain, or investment banking at the likes of UBS, or IT at the likes of Sun Microsystems, or graduate schemes for central government or finance at the likes of LloydsTSB. Big roles, big salaries and big companies. If you didn’t fall into a role like this, then you most likely went into a manual labour role or some kind of sales role.
HR for most Indian males was never an option as a natural starting point for your career.
Indian males suffer from two things – a sense of pride, and a sense of machismo. In a highly skilled professional job you’re pride is taken care of and in turn you get good recognition in your community. The sales thing matters because if you do well you can buy certain items perceived as valuable and create an impression in the community you are doing well, taking care of the machismo. To my mind, this is why more Indian males will go for roles in recruitment.
It’s not that there’s a taboo about working in HR as an Indian male, it’s just more that it’s never really been seen as an area for an Indian male to work in. I think there are a few reasons for that. The first is it’s certainly not promoted enough in the Indian community for men to even be aware of the opportunities of working in HR. For those who do know, there’s a perception that it’s mainly for women to work in HR due to the people side of the role and not for men. The third piece is the perception of it not being a highly paid profession and so doesn’t lend itself to the machismo side of things.
I also don’t think there is an anti-diversity agenda here. Indian men aren’t being discriminated against for working in or by working in HR – not that I’m aware of at least. (If I reflect on my own career in L&D, I don’t think I’ve been discriminated against because I’m an Indian male) As I see it, this is more of an awareness piece of letting this ‘group’ know that HR is a profession with many opportunities and they’re just as valid as any other profession they may consider.
I’m not setting out to launch a crusade into getting more Indian men into the profession, I just wanted to put some of my own thought to what I think is happening in the industry, and to give some context to why I think there aren’t many Indian men working across the various HR roles. I’m also happy to be pointed in the way of evidence that will suggest otherwise, and data that presents another perspective.